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Izgon 2

Drawing by Danijel Knežević, depicting all factions and their in-character relations

Reviewing your own larps is always different than reviewing others. However, even amongst those, Izgon 2 is different. It's a pervasive larp played in real space which was probably the most ambitious larp that I've ever done, the larp I've spent longest time building - and I was excited about it. Over two months have been spent preparing this larp - handling the sign-ups, writing the rules and mapping and writing the characters themselves. That is on top of all the work done on the first Izgon larp - my review and design document from the first larp is available here. All the info from it is still valid. The larp documentation is available here, and you may use rules and character info to get better references to what is told here. The sheer scale of this larp - not just the number of players (which is nothing unusual outside Croatia) - but the fact it was played in a large number of countries in Europe and states in USA, all at the same time as part of the same fictional world, linked with the same people. As far as I know, that's gotta be one of the world firsts (though Izgon 1 also featured cross-country play, as there was a player from Italy).

Izgon 2 "movie poster" - names of Amani, Kalesti and Melki players are listed.
Poster by Danijel Knežević and Damir Podhraški
However, there were some differences between two larps. Izgon 1 was written in secrecy, and completely shrouded in mystery. Those signing up never actually knew what they were signing up, except for the fact it's gonna last for five weeks, they're gonna play alongside their real lives, and that there will be a mechanic which will allow it to go smoothly. Also, they should never tell anyone that they signed up or that they plan to sign up.

Once it was finished, the word spread - so more people wanted to join in Izgon 2 (which was designed to allow it), but such secrecy could never happen again. Some people read the rules and storylines from the first larp, some assumed (often correctly) that the players who played Izgon 1 now play again, and all players basically knew what it all was about. More details were available - some due to safety concerns which arose in the first larp, and some to better explain the larp better to the new players.

Safety was pushed forward as one of the top priorities to improve for Izgon 2 - both emotional and physical. The level of physicality was defined, it was forbidden to disturb people at their jobs, cut/brake/meta safewords were officially in this time, and finding an "anchor" person was required of players, which would allow them to still talk to a non-player about their experiences (a method which sadly got underused).

Photo from post-larp debriefing: me with some Draak players

The larp was designed with no bad guys: NO side here was written as the absolute baddy - everyone here was a "bad guy" to someone else. Also, no side had the absolute truth of everything that happened, no side was completely innocent, and no side at all was completely right. The truth was in the eye of beholder. There was no decision that was absolutely right or wrong by design of the larp.

Another theme was the planned obsolescence of trust. Exactly how much trust was needed in a world where everything is verifiable by everyone pretty much having their own lie detector, and what happens when some things are suddenly not verifiable? How is trust recreated?

Amani - Amani have been envisioned as a "perfect" society. Angelical or high-elfish, if you wish to draw comparisons to other fiction. Their society is a pinnacle of democracy, and they had a lot of players who returned from the first Izgon larp with already existing character history and "chemistry". They were primarily defined by how many people they knew - Amani had *lots* of connections in their character sheets. But any changes in that society would lead to chaos - and Amani were especially vulnerable to chaos if it was introduced in their lines. Disagreements would spread like cancer, whether they were just political disagreements or a rebel faction such as Asani (who were, again, not evil - they just had different goals). Like Kalesti, they came here to negotiate about peace - the idea of unity was something they did not expect. Amani were about surviving internal strife and rebuilding trust.

Kalesti - Kalesti have been a more relaxed society from start. They were envisioned more as wood elves or fairies. They are shattered and very different from each other, because that's what they choose to be. A large part of their personality was the community they were from, which was often a vivid image in their histories and often something that defines them. E.g. characters from Rilti had a very Amani-like culture, but others were often much different. Due to being less organized, they were designed to have more internal conflicts than Amani (though not all of them played out), but to be more cool and accepting about it. E.g. Kalesti's version of the Asani was the Fire Cave community, but something like that would not be openly rebellious within the framework of Kalesti society, nor would there be any need for secrecy (a part of their quest was openly mentioned in the introduction to the Kalesti) - though in a weird twist of fate both subplots failed because certain players did not activate... Kalesti were about recognizing beauty in diversity and tolerance, but also the one most likely to already be satisfied with how things are.

Melki - Melki were based on the monomyth. They had power and knowledge which they could not share with others (so that there always remains a gap), and they had the ability and duty to save everyone. They paid a huge price for it: they were separated from their friends and families, and they would not see them until their task was done. Melki were completely bent on the reunification, even though they didn't know their real reasons for it. Their power, their sacrifice, their ability to influence the future and change the world were based on several figures from mythology and sci-fi, but that path was a hard one and basically all members of the Melki were recruited sworn in in-character from existing characters (with the exception of one player). Melki were about destiny they saw and tried to influence. They were the "heroes" of this larp, if there were any heroes at all - but they were not the regular monomyth kind of heroes like e.g. Luke Skywalker or Aragorn. The closest analogies would be Paul Atreides from Dune, his son Leto and their Golden Path. Which is demanding and has a flipside, but it's better (for their people) than the alternative - they know it, and they try to lead their people towards it, and they already accepted the price they are paying. What they did was farsighted - but their ultimate goal (which had three acceptable variants, and one of them took place) was intentionally that which would seem extreme or severe to Amani and Kalesti (and hard to accept). Melki were about being a hero, and all the price that is paid for that - but their journey is finally at end. They are now home.

Draak - the new faction. Draak were ruthless. They were about power, rulership and evolution. Being Draak meant you had to prove yourself - both in your task (which was to stop the unification by any means necessary) and to compete against other Draak to prove yourself more capable and useful than them. In one way, it was ruthless - allowing yourself to get killed clearly marked you as incapable - but on the other hand results mattered, and they were rewarded appropriately, fairly and reliably. It was a dog eat dog environment, but the possibilities were endless and sky was the limit. There was a dualism of competition and camaraderie. Along with the Melki, they were one of the most knowledgeable races - but their knowledge was not in the future, but in the past. They knew what was behind all the most important events in the Amani/Kalesti/Melki past - including the fact why they don't have any name as a species, and why they use faction names as their own. They were behind the war, and they manipulated the society into separating in factions - and they did it because of the fear, and because of the advantage for their own species. They were even behind the creation of all other species. Draak were feudal in structure, yet displayed a corporate greed for power and represented a pure force of evolution. They have been inspired by dragons (obviously), but also by Shadows from Babylon 5. Their traits were rationalized by their players and accepted as positive - and in all of that, there was some primal simplicity and purpose experienced by several Draak players.

Hunters - the few, the proud, the champions of humanity. Being a Hunter meant you were facing overwhelming odds. It was about being both an assassin and a savior of the humanity. In case if you wondered if what Hunters were telling about poisoning the planet - yes, that was true. Humanity is (in-character) getting poisoned by the draining of mana which is necessary for Amani/Kalesti/Melki/Draak for their abilities to function. Yes, that was a conflicting goal - and yes, you disbelieved or rationalized it despite the fact that even Prophets provided such evidence. Think about that rationalization you did for a minute. However, since nothing is simple - in the IC-mythology, Hunters were actually descendants of Aphrodite. Some of them reconnected with their heritage near the end, and crafted themselves an amulet like Prophets (though Prophets never went the opposite way, and they did not discover how to craft an Energy Glove, the main tool of the Hunters, for themselves).

Prophets - the non-faction. Prophets were not made to be an unified faction, as they had no goals of their own. They really were random people with powers. They were no more a faction than nurses or salesmen would be if you put them together - heck, they tried to be a faction and it did not work well which led to some frustration. But in fact they were not so random - every Prophet was close to some other players, and every Prophet knew someone from some other faction IRL. They were designed to pick a side and join them. They could gather mana for Amani and Kalesti faster than they could, they could join any rituals (Amani, Kalesti, Melki, Draak or Hunter). A Prophet would have the best experience possible if they just went out and *did* stuff with whomever they chose to. They were also information gatherers, and helped information spread in about half the time it would take otherwise. In IC fiction, they were created by Apollo and Athena who were Melki, to take part in Convergence ritual as part of a plan from thousands of years ago - but in fact, only one Prophet was necessary for that. A Hunter or Draak would work too. They were inspired by both legendary prophets and late-night fortune tellers, and perhaps it was the Prophets who best represented humanity - suddenly finding themselves in the middle of the conflict and trying to make heads or tails about it.

El'essa turning her host into a Prophet. Player art by Kristina.

Both larps' stories started with an incident. The first larp started after a powerful storm. It was a plot tool to increase confusion and as something where certain characters would be "lost". Izgon 2 had the anomaly at start whose purpose was to justify players being scattered across the globe - and "injured", which would justify the reduced deadline from five weeks to two (as the in-character laws of physics between two larps remained the same). However, this time all characters who were supposed to be there were actually there (unless their players failed to show up). The focus was not on confusion and pain, but on social relations.

...and doing rituals in public places in the middle of the night.

The main theme of Izgon 1 was survival. Returning home. Except for Hunters, who entered into larp later and provided for a simpler "assassin" game within the greater larp environment. Izgon 2 had the "negotiations" as its main theme, though different factions would have different views on it. Survival was of secondary importance, as they already knew a lot of mana spots, where the energy crossing in Zagreb was and what the Earth rune was. Since it was decided that laws of physics would stay the same, that knowledge remained from the last time and was still valid. Hunters and Prophets were expanded (in both backstory and rules) into being very valid on their own, and while they were clearly an afterthought in the first larp (since they were developed during the duration of the larp), here they were expanded on and given equal care and thought as all other characters. And we also got Draak, who not only completed the background story but they also had some very unique mechanics and way of playing.

A Draak commiting a Hunter-assisted suicide during the "soft end" of the larp.

Timing and pacing were very different. Secrecy and confusion was written in the first larp's characters - approximately half of the characters they knew would be dead or missing, and they were not able to find them though they kept looking - and even some gameplay mechanics were obscured in how exactly they are done. Second larp was much more open and clear from the start, because it could not afford a week to get the players on their feet. In the first Izgon, GM-ing it had slight interventionism in it. Anomalies would happen, new stuff would get introduced in, and Shalinor's reveal was a big thing the last week, which in the end led to a dramatic and unexpected ending. Izgon 2 had less time for it, so it was basically a "hands-off" approach. All the timing, pacing and methods were up to players. To facilitate that, there was much more backstory, individual player goals and subfactions.

Al'ar - player art by Kristina
While it worked well on macro level, sometimes it failed on the micro level. Several small factions (and one major - Hunters) never really worked as intended because players didn't really show up and play - though certain players still managed to pull a decent role-play out of it. Some conflict never really worked well because players simply did not play on it. But despite that, there was still much content - though a big part of it involved misunderstandings and misinformation.

With such dependance on players to push the storyline, unfortunately some players found themselves on the bad end of the bargain. They expected to be pulled into larp by either me or others, and that never happened. Part of it is because players in Croatia are typically unused to the larp pushed by players. Other part of it is that they ended up with people who did not play a style that was compatible with theirs (or did not play at all). While feedback from Izgon 1 was more consistent regarding how players felt and integrated into the larp itself, feedback from this larp was much more different - with both people who had the time of their lives, and those who didn't get what they hoped for. They are several cases where two different people from the same faction complained both that there was too much to do and too little to do.

Groningen, Netherlands
While superficially similar methods and rules were used, themes of the larp were intentionally significantly different. Izgon 1 was about finding distant friends among those who are lost, it was about getting together, exploring this strange new world, facing the unknown and discovering its secrets and threats. It was about exploration and about building a group together. Information was rare, guesswork was abundant, and once the pure power of binding the characters together over a long period of time set in, any changes would end up powerful and dramatic.

Izgon 2 was about the clash of cultures. It was about diplomacy, learning the differences, taking all the noise and forging a straight path across it - no matter which direction it takes you, the choice was what was important. It was about perception of truth - a lesson that many still find hard to accept, because players were made to feel that you have the truth and that their side was the right one, and the others were wrong - intellectually and morally. Players were not just told that they were right and expected to debate the argument from a logical point of view - they were provided with all the evidence and reasoning that their are right, all the background of it, and in fact all their existance was about the truth they felt was right. Because the diplomacy without deep conviction is shallow. Whether their position was similar (Amani and Kalesti) or radically opposite (Melki/Draak/Hunters) or there to be the only truly neutral party - but a potential ally to everybody (Prophets). It was also about conflicting interests within each faction which had the potential of changing or shifting your goals - and they had goals of their own, in which they could find allies elsewhere. And deep personal interests, old vendettas and loves.

Player art - Ildir by Ana
While in Izgon 1, sides were kept apart for a long time to create a feeling of alienation, here they knew each other from the start (except for the Draak, which were one surprize of this larp). Also, you all had friends, allies, spies, and enemies both hidden and open. Some of their reasoning was personal, some was so different from what you believed that you were uncapable of accepting it. Despite a goal that you had which to you seemed deceptively simple, achieving it was not easy. Hopefully, this larp was insightful in how different opinions are formed, and what is included in the process of negotiations.

Vaganski vrh - the tallest peak
of the Velebit mountain
The mana gathering, the node game, was present in both larps as an excuse to go around and do stuff (and produce some nice photos). How challenging it would be depends on the two things - what kind of ending are players working towards, how much of an effort did their side put in to create those nets, if they wish to cast any high magics or other effects etc. This was arguably the most ARG-ish part of the game, somewhat similar to the game style of Ingress, but with more of a social component. It was not what the larp was about - simply another dimension of it that players could choose to do so or ignore. In Izgon 2, Kalesti did way more mana gathering than Amani, with most of their mana coming from East Coast USA players (from Boston and New York), and the Zagreb team who took several trips across the city and to the known spots within 50 km of the city. In contrast, Amani mostly depended on their Serbian players for mana.

Gathering mana from the Statue of Liberty

The only thing which was pushed was the finality. Whatever was decided in the negotiations would become the final fate of their people. There could be no second tries. Some of the players burned out and quit midway, which had drastic consequences for the larp - once the main negotiator left, it nearly caused a dozen other people to quit because they didn't feel like it made sense to try anymore. The second week was much quieter than the first one, and in the worse mood. Many were on the verge of quitting, and just saying "we'll do this next time, we aren't ready for unity now". However, what happened on this larp would be a final fate for their people. That was the only predetermined thing. If they were united, they would be united forever. If they weren't, than they'd never be. Etc. And so the Draak players were actually very close to their goal - which almost happened due to internal strife of Amani, Kalesti and Melki.

A Prophet preparing a meditation in search of some answers
Some players thrived in this free-for-all environment. Others found it difficult, as they found themselves confused about whom to trust and unable to determine it. In general, players who came from a playing environment which was more player-run tended to enjoy the larp more, while those from environments which was more focused on smaller larps where all "correct" information could be easily had by one person found themselves overwhelmed.

A Hunter combining technology and mysticism

In a way, it's difficult to truly describe Izgon 2, because it was many different things to many different people. Some burned out, some were awestruck, some didn't play a lot or at all, and some had a revelation of what is possible in larp: a near-hundred player event, with players from 6 countries (playing in 8), with 6 different factions and no upper limit in your investment. I could tell you some of the things that happened, objectively, but that barely scratches the surface. Other players will have their own reviews and stories. Read them. To the players of other factions they might seem like something very different from their own experience and they are right. They each tell their own tale. About love, war, trust, misinformation, confusion and peace. But in the end, they're only a small window in what Izgon 2 was. It's only when you combine those stories - and two dozen more - that you can even begin to approach the complexity of everything that happened.

A scene from debriefing in Zlatni Medo beer hall

The story of Izgon 1 has already been well-rounded, but with Izgon 2 that storyline has ended - and the in-character world is changed forever. Nearly all the plotlines have finished. There will be no more Izgon larps - at least, no more in this form or ran by me. As the organizer, I feel tired and drained - though not much more than after Izgon 1 - but proud of what was achieved here. I placed the larp materials as open source (same as last time), and there already are some exciting projects which are being prepared that take place in it. Keep reading my blog for more info.

And if you're in Zagreb this Sunday (December 15th at 4PM), check out GAMING@KSET. I'll run a presentation on Izgon 2 (and other larp projects I run such as Terra Nova and Camarilla Agram), and you can discuss the larp with us (afterwards there's gonna be some boardgames and Pathfinder).

Thank you for reading, and for more info check out the Izgon documentation website.

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